Our senior consultant Andrew Weltch looks at Gareth Southgate’s England soccer team – a group of players who stand (or kneel) for something.
Win or lose in Sunday’s [July 11th 2021] UEFA European Championship final, there’s something undeniably special about this England team.
Manager Gareth Southgate’s Dear England open letter last month, explaining why his team ‘takes a knee’ to show its opposition to discrimination, powerfully spells out what patriotism means to him, and the responsibilty that comes with the England shirt.
“It’s [the players’] duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”
He is a different kind of England manager – even avoiding the usual dreary cliches in his interviews.
He shows a level of intelligence and compassion rarely seen in professional sport (certainly men’s professional sport) and he has created a very different ethos in this squad.
By taking a knee before each game, they’ve knowingly alienated (and consequently been booed by) a noisy yobbish chunk of their fanbase.
And some even labelled them Marxists. But they took it all, and continue to do so, because they believe showing their opposition to discrimination is more important.
How much easier it would have been to do what many other national teams have done – simply make a statement opposing discrimination, or leave it to individual players, or just stand and clap.
But this isn’t a team that takes the easy way out. It has bought into that Southgate ethos around equality, inclusivity and racial injustice.
Last year, Marcus Rashford’s campaign highlighting food poverty – and drawing on his own childhood experience – led to the government changing its policy on free school meals.
And Raheem Sterling has set up a charity to help disadvantaged young people get into university and work.
Jordan Henderson’s simple gesture of wearing rainbow laces in support of LGBT+ rights is still controversial in some quarters. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago (and still would be for many national teams).
Whether they win or lose in the final, this is a remarkable group of young men. In fulfilling their off-field duty, as spelt out by their inspirational leader, they are already winners in my book.
Weltch Media provides a range of communications services for sports teams, organisations and individuals.